Inspiring Stories of Makers Building Autonomous Robots

DARPA grand challenge

As my kids get older, I have enjoyed finding ways that we can learn together, get inspired, and be entertained as a family.   To my surprise my little boys have really enjoyed Nova documentaries.   As a “big kid,”  I find these stories very motivating and insightful.   I wanted to share two of our favorite Nova programs.  You might find them useful for your family or class room.

It’s still amazing to me that we have robots on Mars helping us understand that nature of this planet and it’s history.   The Mars Curiosity Nova program really captures the creativity, passion, energy, and dedication of the leaders of the Mars curiosity program.   I think we can be very proud of our teams at NASA JPL.  They are amazing makers!

Similarly, the Nova program on the DARPA grand challenge tells the stories of various teams who attempted to create autonomous cars that can drive across a desert course.   My kids really enjoy this program.  I think the writers do a good job talking about the role of machine learning and computer vision in creating an autonomous car.   At the same time, the program captures the emotions, leadership styles and team dynamics of the various players in the contest.   Both programs are great case studies in creative teams, computer science, and autonomous technology.   Makers of all ages will find these stories inspiring.

Hope you enjoy it!

NOVA | Ultimate Mars Challenge

Abstract: Why go back to Mars? Far from dead, Mars holds untold potential. Nearly half a century of Mars exploration has yielded tantalizing clues that Mars may once have harbored life—and may harbor it still. The extraordinary landing of a revolutionary rover named Curiosity—which successfully touched down inside the Gale Crater—means we have wheels down on the planet once again, in the form of the most sophisticated robot ever to rove the Mars surface. Will NASA’s bold mission and this marvel of technology answer some of our biggest questions and usher in a new golden age of exploration? NOVA goes behind the scenes on NASA’s quest to solve the riddles of the red planet.


Great Robot Race

Abstract: Twenty-three bizarre looking vehicles line up at the gate of the DARPA Grand Challenge with one thing in common: thereÕs nobody behind the wheel.


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Behind the scenes with NASA: Conversations with Sally Ride, Mars rover drivers, and more…

Mars rover

As a kid, I loved the nights that my Dad would pull out our old school slide projector.  (very old school)  As a family, we would watch these NASA astronomy shows.  These simple slide shows would always blow my mind.   The universe is just BIG.  VERY BIG!  These childhood activities combined with unhealthy doses of watching Star Trek helped me become a NASA geek.   It’s awesome that I got to marry a fellow NASA lover.

As a professional developer in my adult life, I draw inspiration from hearing the “behind the scenes” stories of the men and women who have pushed humanity to their limits.   In some cases, these men and women gave their lives to help humanity push the limits of science and extend our research of space.    For our post today, I wanted to take our readers on a back stage tour of some really incredible scientists and engineers from NASA.   I hope these stories help inspire all of us to never stop learning and to always “dare mighty things.”


Sally Ride on Breaking Ground in Aerospace and Education

Podcast comes to us from Harvard Business Review IdeaCast.    Sally Ride, former NASA astronaut and founder of Sally Ride Science.  In this interview, the late Sally Ride shares her experiences as a mentor and ideas for improving STEM education.   She is still a hero to many in the science and education community.

Podcast link


It IS Rocket Science?

Holly Griffith, former Space Shuttle and current Space Station worker bee
Scott talks to Holly Griffith, former Space Shuttle Flight Controller and now International Space Station worker bee. Holly is an engineer who has worked in and around space and aerospace for her entire career. Holly and Scott talk space, engineering, fuel cells and Scott tries to keep up.

Podcast link


The Mars Rover Drivers

This story comes to use from FLOSS Weekly.   Randal and Aaron talk with Scott Maxwell and Paolo Bellutta about driving the Mars rovers.

Podcast link


Scott talks to Mark Powell, Senior Software Engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratories. Mark has worked on three Mars lander missions, most recently supporting Curiosity. Mark lives on Mars Time. What’s it like to write software that helps us talk to robots on that are on FREAKING MARS?

Podcast link


Carl and Richard are Back in Space!
Carl and Richard are back in space! With the SpaceX launch to the International Space Station, the boys decide they have to talk about space again. A big chunk of the conversation focuses on how a billionaire boys club has grown up around space – folks like Elon Musk who made their money in technology are now spending it to expand mankind’s reach into space, and perhaps make a buck or two along the way. Beyond SpaceX there is Planetary Resources, a gathering of a bunch of internet billionaries to mine asteroids. Is this how mankind will expand into space?

Podcast link


7 Minutes of Terror

NASA’s Curiosity rover is a 1-ton robot that will make an unprecedented Mars landing on Aug. 5, 2012. See how the risky maneuver will keep rover team members in suspense for 7 fateful minutes. Credit: NASA


So… What do you think the “big news” will be from Mars?    How will this news impact us?


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Curiosity has landed! Touch down confirmed!

W00t! @wilw stopped by @NASAJPL today. He seemed pretty happy... on Twitpic

Curiosity and NASA team… You’ve made us all proud!   This is the Olympics of engineering!

Wow! The rover sent back pictures too!

Buzz on the Curiosity Rover?

  • @MarsCuriosity New #Spacecraft3D augmented-reality app from @NASAJPL puts me in the palm of your hand:
  • @NASAJPL Teachers: Bring @MarsCuriosity into your classroom! JPL hosts landing educator workshop, Aug 3-5. Apply by July 13:
  • @MarsRovers This Mars panorama is the next best thing to being there. 817 pics from Oppy stitched into one 360º view:
  • @MarsCuriosity W00t! @wilw stopped by @NASAJPL today. He seemed pretty happy to see my double. (The feeling’s mutual.)
  • @MarsCuriosity Dare mighty things. Team shares challenges of the final “7 minutes of terror” of my landing on Mars. Video:
  • @NASAJPL Share your ideas about future Mars exploration plans, including prep for human exploration! Closes July 1: